Zooplankton-phytoplankton biomass and diversity relationships in the Great Lakes

Katya E. Kovalenko, Euan D. Reavie, Stephanie Figary, Lars G. Rudstam, James M. Watkins, Anne Scofield, Christopher T. Filstrup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Quantifying the relationship between phytoplankton and zooplankton may offer insight into zooplankton sensitivity to shifting phytoplankton assemblages and the potential impacts of producer-consumer decoupling on the rest of the food web. We analyzed 18 years (2001–2018) of paired phytoplankton and zooplankton samples collected as part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) Great Lakes Biology Monitoring Program to examine both the long-term and seasonal relationships between zooplankton and phytoplankton across all five Laurentian Great Lakes. We also analyzed effects of phytoplankton diversity on zooplankton biomass, diversity, and predator-prey (zooplanktivore/ grazer) ratios. Across the Great Lakes, there was a weak positive correlation between total algal biovolume and zooplankton biomass in both spring and summer. The relationship was weaker and not consistently positive within individual lakes. These trends were consistent over time, providing no evidence of increasing decoupling over the study period. Zooplankton biomass was weakly negatively correlated with algal diversity across lakes, whereas zooplankton diversity was unaffected. These relationships did not change when we considered only the edible phytoplankton fraction, possibly due to the high correlation between total and edible phytoplankton biovolume in most of these lakes. Lack of strong coupling between these producer and consumer assemblages may be related to lagging responses by the consumers, top-down effects from higher-level consumers, or other confounding factors. These results underscore the difficulty in predicting higher trophic level responses, including zooplankton, from changes in phytoplankton assemblages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0292988
JournalPloS one
Issue number10 October
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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